McAuliffe, Herring take criticism in uproar over video
State GOP wants duo to give up funds donated by Planned Parenthood
richmond — Virginia’s Republican Party chief on Friday called on Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark R. Herring to give away donations from Planned Parenthood following the release of a video showing one of the group’s executives casually discussing abortion techniques that preserve organs for research.
State GOP Chairman John Whitbeck also pressed McAuliffe (D) to order an investigation into whether Planned Parenthood clinics in the state were performing outlawed “partial-birth” abortions or using other illegal methods for keeping the organs intact.
“I know this will be a hard call for the governor since he received nearly half a million dollars in campaign help from Planned Parenthood, but these allegations rise above partisan politics,” Whitbeck said.
Brian Zuzenak, director of McAuliffe’s political action committee, dismissed Whitbeck’s demand, saying it fit the Virginia GOP’s pattern of “extreme attacks on a woman’s right to make her own health-care decisions.”
“Governor McAuliffe ran on the promise to be a brick wall against those attacks, and he is proud to be living up to that pledge today,” Zuzenak said in an e-mail.
Herring spokeswoman Emily Bolton said Republicans were “trying to score political points by attacking women’s health care.”
McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said earlier that the governor was “disturbed” by the video but did not think an investigation was necessary. Cianti Stewart-Reid, executive director at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said its seven clinics do not collect fetal tissue for research.
Whitbeck’s demand came one day after Republican leaders of Virginia’s House of Delegates called on McAuliffe to launch an investigation. A congressional committee and the governors of Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana and Texas, as well as the attorney general of Ohio, have ordered inquiries of their own.
Virginia Republicans have shied away from divisive abortion politics in recent years, having been burned badly in 2012 for supporting a bill that would have required women to undergo vaginal ultrasounds before abortions. In every statewide election since, Democrats have accused the GOP of waging a “war on women” — and have won them all.
Given that the video has offended even some abortion rights advocates, Republican leaders appear to see an opening to talk up an issue that is popular with the party base in a way that might not alienate swing voters. They also see away to put pressure on McAuliffe, who made abortion rights a central theme of his 2013 campaign and received hefty funding from Planned Parenthood and like-minded groups.
Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the group’s political arm, gave his campaign in-kind donations worth more than $490,000 for staffing, mailings and other services.
The group also donated just over $30,000 to Herring (D), most of that also in the form of in-kind services, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan tracker of money in politics.
Whitbeck’s request concerned not those in-kind donations, but the monetary ones that Planned Parenthood’s Virginia affiliate made to McAuliffe’s and Herring’s inaugural funds, $5,000 to McAuliffe’s inaugural committee and $1,250 to Herring’s. Instead of calling on McAuliffe and Herring to return the contributions, he urged them to donate like amounts to a “charity not involved in the abortion and infanticide industry.”
An anti abortion group, the Center for Medical Progress, released an undercover video Tuesday featuring Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research. She is shown discussing, over lunch, how doctors put the fetus in a breech position and “crush” in certain locations but not others to preserve the organs. She also discusses dollar amounts associated with the organs.
The sale of fetal tissue is illegal, but it can be donated with the woman’s permission. Planned Parenthood has said that it does not profit from those donations but that it sometimes recoups the cost of transporting the organs.
Federal regulations also prohibit anyone from altering the timing or method of an abortion for the sole purpose of preserving tissue for research. Planned Parenthood has not directly responded to questions about whether the organ-preserving techniques that Nucatola describes in the video violate those regulations.
In 2003, Congress outlawed an abortion procedure called “intact dilation and extraction,” which involves partly delivering an intact fetus feet first, then piercing and compressing the skull. Opponents refer to it as “partial-birth” abortion, and the Center for Medical Progress contends that is what Nucatola was describing when she talked about putting the fetus in the breech position.
Asked directly about the “partial-birth” allegations raised by the video, Eric Ferrero, spokesman for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said: “As a high-quality health-care provider, Planned Parenthood follows all federal and state laws and regulations.”